By Isabelle Rondeau, PA International
France's inspirational captain Cathy Melain has warned her side they will have to be at their best if they want to successfully defend their European title in Greece.
The tournament begins on Friday and Les Bleus start their campaign against Israel, aiming to clinch a second consecutive crown along with qualification for the Athens Olympics.
Many key members of the victorious 2001 team have now retired, including former captain Yannick Souvre, Laetitia Moussard, Laure Savasta and Isabelle Fijalkowski, but Melain believes such a competition can transcend spirits.
"We are all aware that we will try to defend a title with a team different from the one who won it," Malain said.
"This team is new, this is a new European championship. The prime objective is to qualify for the Olympics but it is also true that the gap between us and the rest of the teams is narrower compared to two years ago.
"We are really going to have to be at our highest level to be a little bit above the rest."
Melain could, however, be the inspiration for the new team, still in search of recognition and fame after finishing eighth of the world championships last year in China.
Formerly at Bourges, where she clinched three European cup and French titles, Melain joined Italian side Italsoft Venezia this summer.
She has been one of the most efficient, if not the best, player of the French team in their last three preparation tournaments in Lorient, Grenoble and Pyrgos, scoring an average of 19 points per match.
The 29-year-old was given the captain's armband just before the start of the preparation by coach Alain Jardel, taking over the responsibility from her old friend Souvre.
"I have always had ambitions as a basketball player but being captain was not one of them," Melain added in L'Equipe.
"I had never been confronted with that situation whether it was in Bourges or with France.
"It was Yannick who had that role and that was natural for me. Being captain is now completely new for me."
Melain will be assisted by co-captain Audrey Sauret in her mission to lead the French side to Athens.
"With Audrey, we are complementary in that role of leading the team," she added.
"Her personality is different from mine and we both have to confront our roles within the squad.
"So far it has been working really well and I hope it will keep going that way."